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| Last Updated:01/02/2019

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Ken-Betwa linking project gets green nod

The Centre's ambitious Ken-Betwa river linking project has received the final environmental clearance, subject to general and specific conditions. This is part of a much-bigger plan to link some of India's major rivers that will help fight drought spells and overcome irrigation challenges but also raises some ecological concerns.


An expert panel of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) that appraises river valley and hydroelectric projects had recommended the proposal for environmental clearance last December. Following the panel's nod, the ministry issued the final environmental clearance on August 25.


Pegged at an estimated cost of Rs 18,000 crore, the project proposes to transfer water from the Ken river basin to the Betwa basin in Uttar Pradesh. Both rivers are tributaries of the Yamuna.


As part of the project, a 77-metre-high and 2,031-metre-long composite dam will be built on the Ken in Daudhan village to provide irrigation for 6.35 lakh hectares of area.


It will also provide drinking water and water for power generation. To take the Ken's water into the Betwa basin, a 221-km-long canal will be built.


The dam's reservoir will submerge a total of 100 sqkm of forest, including 50 sqkm in Panna Tiger Reserve alone. The submergence of the forest area has been one of the biggest reasons for opposition to the project by environmentalists and wildlife conservationists.


The Panna Tiger Reserve had lost all its viable breeding tiger population in 2009 to poaching and natural causes. A reintroduction project was set in motion, which successfully managed to revive the population to more than 30 tigers.


Before the final environmental clearance, the MoEF&CC issued the Stage-I or in-principle forest clearance in May and the final, Stage-II clearance will be issued only after a host of specific conditions pertaining to wildlife and forest conservation are fulfilled. It will also go for Cabinet clearance. The project is also being scrutinised by the Centrally Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court.


In its effort to kick-start the project, the Water Resources Ministry is also trying to break the impasse between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh after the former demanded an increase in its water share and also sought inclusion of projects from Phase-II in Phase-I. Union Minister for Water Resources Nitin Gadkari held talks with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Monday.


A total of 23 specific conditions have been stipulated in the final clearance. As a vast swathe of forest will be submerged, changes in microclimatic conditions pre- and post-construction will have to be recorded and reported. Further, the project proponent, National Water Development Agency, will also have to record the impacts of submergence on the wildlife habitat and their migratory paths.


Mooted during the 1980s during the Indira Gandhi government, the project had received its first big push under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA-I, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government revived the project in 2014 after it was scrapped by the United Progressive Alliance due to environmental concerns.


The state governments of Gujarat and Maharashtra are expected to soon sign a Memorandum of Understanding on the Damanganga-Pinjal River linking project. Par-Tapi-Narmada between Maharashtra and Gujarat, Mahanadi-Godavari link and Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga are some of the other links proposed by the Centre.